SSON Podcast: Dhruv Devnani, Manulife

Seth Adler

The Director of Business Processing Services BPO & Category Management for Manulife Dhruv Devnani joins us and shares that he sees his role as guiding the process along while supporting and getting the most value for the organization. He understands that outsourcing can be viewed as controversial especially during a moment in history where many countries across the world are engaging in protectionist rhetoric. Regarding the US, he’s watching for potential action specifically on skilled worker or H1B visas...or potentially any “Buy American” regulations. But again, Dhruv remains focused, as an outsourcing professional on getting the most value for his global organization. So it make sense to explore what makes sense from a sourcing perspective or location perspective for the organization globally.

Listen here:


Seth Adler:                              From Manulife, Dhruv Devnani joins us. First, some supporters to thank and thank you for listening. This episode is supported by SSON with over 100,000 members, the Shared Services & Outsourcing Network is the largest and most established community of shared services and outsourcing professionals in the world. SSON is a one-stop shop for shared services professionals offering industry-leading events, reports, surveys, interviews, whitepapers, videos, editorial, infographics, and more. Engage at

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                                                      The director of business processing services BPO and category management for Manulife Dhruv Devnani joins and shares that he sees his role as guiding the process while supporting and getting the most value for the organization. He understands that outsourcing can be viewed as a controversial subject especially during a moment in time where many countries across the world are engaging in protectionist rhetoric. Regarding the US, he is watching for potential actions specifically on skilled worker or H1B visas or potentially any bi-American regulations.

                                                      But again, Dhruv remains focused as an outsourcing professional on getting the most value for his global organization. So it makes sense to explore what makes sense from a sourcing perspective or a location perspective for the organization globally.

                                                      Welcome to SSON, I'm your host Seth Adler. Download episodes on or through app on iTunes within the iTunes podcast app in Google Play or wherever you currently get your podcast. Dhruv Devnani.

Dhruv Devnani:                   It's not that common a name but you will find a few Dhruv's around.

Seth Adler:                              Here and there.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Here and there. It means North star or a pole star.

Seth Adler:                              That's good name.

Dhruv Devnani:                   There you go.

Seth Adler:                              And then this is BPO as far as Manulife is concerned you're the North star for BPO, right?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I won't call myself the North star, but I'm there to guide the process along. I support and try to get the best value for the organization. Again, it is a very controversial topic given the politics of what's happening.

Seth Adler:                              Of outsourcing you mean?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Of outsourcing and given significant portion of our operation is in US so the Trump effect and all those things.

Seth Adler:                              Well, what is that? I just want to make sure to not politically but to absolutely discuss what you're talking about. What do you mean?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Sure so when I say Trump effect I mean there is a with the protectionist rhetoric again nothing has been enacted or any acts have taken in terms of the Congress or the president-

Seth Adler:                              Well, there is the travel ban which the Supreme Court-

Dhruv Devnani:                   Travel ban does impact. What will impact more will be the H1B visa or any bi-American kind of regulations that will come on the books.

Seth Adler:                              Things which have been talked about.

Dhruv Devnani:                   That have been talked about but not acted about. It's kind of a sensitive topic. But still, what is an outsourcing professional my goal is to get the best value for the organization. Manulife being a global organization when I say global organization, we are in about 15 countries around the world. It makes sense to explore what makes sense from outsourcing perspective, from a location perspective to kind of get the best value for the organization.

Seth Adler:                              Beyond the current administration whatever their policies might be?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah, because we have been a global organization for north  of about 100 years. We were in Hong Kong. We were in Philippines a hundred years back. So it's nothing new for the organization to explore from an outsourcing perspective and offshoring perspective.

Seth Adler:                              Having said that, did the change metastasize the pace of which you were looking?

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is a concern. It is another factor that let me blunt people with a higher paycheck than me-

Seth Adler:                              Are figuring out? Fair enough. Totally and I'm sure that you're more than happy to put it on their desks, right?

Dhruv Devnani:                   The reason why I say it. I try not to get into the politics of it.

Seth Adler:                              Of course not and I'm trying to literally take politics out of it and simply have a ...

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is a factor so any decisions we now consider it is a factor but is it a bigger factor or a smaller factor? I won't say. It has always been a factor. It has been a factor since when we-

Seth Adler:                              At the beginning of time, when governments started.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah because we are an insurance company. We are of highly regulated so making sure our regulators making sure the government is aligned, and we get approvals and all those things so it's an ongoing battle.

Seth Adler:                              Totally. There are administrations all over the world where this kind of change is happening so you've got BREXIT, of course. You've got the Philippines. You've mentioned the Philippines. Or Poland and France kind of went the other way. But you did mention that this is not on your desk. However, the repercussions are on your desk.

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is a factor. It is a factor again is that going to change a decision?

Seth Adler:                              Who knows?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Who knows but as I say it is-

Seth Adler:                              You're going to take it into account.

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is a fact that has to be considered before any decisions get made.

Seth Adler:                              So give us a recent example maybe if you could crystallize any decision that has been made or that is being made where you're taking this into account and then we're going to do X, we're going to Y. I don't know if how much you can share with us that's not proprietary.

Dhruv Devnani:                   So the problem is any of those initiatives. I can talk in generic terms but then-

Seth Adler:                              Let's do it, yeah.

Dhruv Devnani:                   So a typical example is we look at a decision to outsource something. Let's just say a hypothetical call center. Where do you place that call center depends on not only the location, not only the political environment. When you do the due diligence associated with that, you kind of look at all the factors, not only financial but geopolitical. So in a hypothetical scenario where we are placing a call center, we will be looking at about I would say approximately 10 to 15 factors where we are looking at not only availability of resourcing and value to the organization. But also factors like climate, political turbulence, and geopolitical risk so aspects like this will be considered and will be made when we consider a decision.

Seth Adler:                              I love it and I think what I'm hearing is that as far as politics is concerned that is put its thumb on the scale a little bit more than it used to and maybe-

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is a factor.

Seth Adler:                              Yeah, more than the past 10 years type of thing.

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is a factor because there is a lot of rhetoric or at least communication coming out of very strong leaders within the political landscape.

Seth Adler:                              World yeah. It's crazy but that's for me to say not for you. In any case, how do we have the pleasure of having you make these tough decisions? Where are you from?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I grew up India.

Seth Adler:                              Where in India?

Dhruv Devnani:                   In a small city called Bhopal.

Seth Adler:                              Where is it?

Dhruv Devnani:                   It's in the center of India so did my engineering as you said a bunch of engineers in the room.

Seth Adler:                              I found the air conditioning switch and you were very impressed because I'm not an engineer. 

Dhruv Devnani:                   There you go. So I did my engineering and then worked a few years in India and then moved to Canada and I have been in Canada for about 18 years now.

Seth Adler:                              So it's a while.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah, it's been a while.

Seth Adler:                              How come the switch what called you or what sent you?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I came here to do my master in business administration so that's what brought me to Canada.

Seth Adler:                              I got you and where did you do it?

Dhruv Devnani:                   At Schulich School of Business.

Seth Adler:                              Here in Toronto?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah, that's it.

Seth Adler:                              All right and how similar was Toronto to your hometown when you?

Dhruv Devnani:                   You realize you're talking two different sides of the world right?

Seth Adler:                              This is my point, yes exactly. So did you feel like a fish out of water or were you ready for it?

Dhruv Devnani:                   No, because my between Bhopal and Toronto was a city called Mumbai.

Seth Adler:                              Of course, and we all know Mumbai.

Dhruv Devnani:                   So it was a lot easier transition because I was transitioning from Mumbai to Toronto rather than from Bhopal to Toronto so the pace was slower. The crowds were smaller. It didn't look as crazy as the City of Mumbai is so it was easier.

Seth Adler:                              Meaning Toronto is slower than Mumbai?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah, Toronto is slower, yeah.

Seth Adler:                              I have not been to Mumbai but I have said in the past that New York I always thought was big and energetic and then I went to Tokyo which is just-

Dhruv Devnani:                   That's what I would have said like if you want to see craziness. So think of Tokyo the crowd with the chaos of India and the dirt and the pollution and all those things. So Tokyo is a cleaner version of Mumbai.

Seth Adler:                              There you go. That's a good comparison. I appreciate it. For those that haven't necessarily been to one or the other. So fantastic. You get here to Toronto. You get your MBA and what did that afford you the opportunity to do? What job made itself available to you?

Dhruv Devnani:                   So I work for the biggest telecom company in Canada.

Seth Adler:                              Rogers?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Bell.

Seth Adler:                              I think Rogers because of Rogers Center which I know of course as SkyDome which is where the Blue Jays play.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Well, if you were in Montreal then the Bell Center would have been the place you would have talked about.

Seth Adler:                              Of course. Of course.

Dhruv Devnani:                   So Bell Canada interesting opportunity in IT project management moved into IT outsourcing as a natural trend from kind of doing deals with the software and hardware service providers at Bell Canada.

Seth Adler:                              Because you understood the machinations of the way that everything worked?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah, it was because I was the project manager so my responsibility was to get it executed. So the decision and those were the days of decentralized procurement organization where IT owned their own procurement shop and took their own decisions in terms of-

Seth Adler:                              The good old days in quotations marks?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I would say the good old days because it taught me a lot about procurement and outsourcing. In the current sense that that kind of transition is not possible where you move from an IT project management role to a BPO category management role. So that's why it's the good old days in procurement terminology.

Seth Adler:                              Because the steps were a little bit more direct?

Dhruv Devnani:                   The steps was very direct. Like you owned the project delivery. You owned not only the vendor relationship. You owned the delivery of the components that made up your solution.

Seth Adler:                              So then we kind of push you into outsourcing and then here is this nice guy who is just I just do IT. I get the stuff going. Now, you want me to make decisions on outsourcing. What did that do to your emotional construct and how did you deal with it?

Dhruv Devnani:                   It was challenging because outsourcing as a concept in I'm talking 2004, 2005 was not a prevalent option and it was not as common so it was challenging. It was because you were making decisions where actual people's life it impacted. Especially when you're talking about offshoring. It [00:14:30] is a very deliberate process but it is also a very painful process. Like when people think of outsourcing professional they say we'll just outsource your job. But no we do take the job very seriously and really go through a very detailed review process in terms of making sure what decision we are proposing or the decision that we are proposing to the organization.

                                                      All the factors are being looked into including the impact of their losses on peoples' lives. So yes, moving from a project management role where all you cared all you impacted was the email system or the instant messaging system that an employee used from actually moving into an outsourcing role where you started impacting [00:15:30] more livelihoods of people. It's still a very deliberative process for me. It's not an easy decision whenever I make a recommendation associated like that.

Seth Adler:                              For your colleagues and folks maybe that are a little newer to it than you are what advice would you have for them? What are keys to doing this well to ensuring that everyone understands that you are taking that human impact into account?

Dhruv Devnani:                   So my advice and this is kind of my statement don't get biased or tied to any solution. Let the process deliver what the organization wants. When I say don't get tied to it. People prejudge like when they're new to the outsourcing process, they kind of prejudge "Okay, outsourcing is the only option on the table and we have to figure out that the ..." No, there is a process. Usually, a very well defined process and I'll be speaking to that later tomorrow. But if you follow the procurement process or if you follow any of the standard outsourcing process what the outcome you will get usually will be a very well defined and will have all the considerations taken into if you follow the process properly.

                                                      And don't bias yourself for one decision or the other. Because it may in the end if you follow the process and the outcome maybe it doesn't make sense to outsource or it may not make sense to even consider an initiative. And that is also a valid outcome because you were referring through the process to kind of understand what the opportunity presents to the organization.

Seth Adler:                              And we're at Shared Services Canada your session just give us then understanding what you just said one level deeper of these tadpoles of the process? Maybe a 45-second version of your you know.

Dhruv Devnani:                   So my presentation would be focused on how you design a vendor management program while you're going through the various steps of the process. I have simplified the process as predeal deal post deal. Just as not too complicated like there are many organization which are a seven-step process some are a five-step process. But really, what I'm saying is really there is a predeal activity, a post-deal activity, and during the deal activities that make up of any sourcing act. And my talk tomorrow is going to be focused on how you have put it in an effective vendor management when you're going through these three phases of any deal within the organization.

Seth Adler:                              All right good which is kind of slightly different than what we're talking about right now which is good. It's two different things that we're talking about. So now that you are where you are, now that you know what you know. Now that you have given the advice that you have given to your colleagues. Where do you think this is all going? If this much change has happened this quickly in your lifetime while you were in this role? We talked about the shifting dynamics of the reality with which you have to deal. Where do you see it in two years or is the whole thing the fact that I will not make this prediction?

Dhruv Devnani:                   No, I will not make the prediction but I will speak to a few factors. Automation is one thing that is going to impact outsourcing far more significantly than anybody realizes. Because most of the outsourcing decisions are at least initially were based on low-value transactional stuff which can be automated. So that will have a significant impact on just the volumes and the types of functions that are coming out. So automation is one of the key drivers that I see that will significantly impact us.

                                                      Does that mean outsourcing is dead? Again, outsourcing will survive in one form or the other. It just will transition as I say into higher value-add services because I always say it's a cycle. Somebody will some senior manager will always say that people outside of an organization can do better than what my organization can do as long as that part exists. Outsourcing will exist.

Seth Adler:                              And that is human nature almost.

Dhruv Devnani:                   It is human nature. It's the grass is always greener on the other side. People say what's there fundamental logic? There isn't any other than some senior managers always think [00:21:00] that my organization cannot do it. Somebody else can do it and that's kind of what will keep outsourcing going. In what direction, in what fields? I don't have the about that.

Seth Adler:                              Understood but your point of view is automation plus.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Automation plus, yeah.

Seth Adler:                              Not automation instead of.

Dhruv Devnani:                   No no.

Seth Adler:                              Fair enough and any other thoughts there?

Dhruv Devnani:                   No, I think that's good for now.

Seth Adler:                              That's good for now. Well, the and I will ask you the three final questions. I'll tell you what they are and then I'll ask you them anyway. What has most surprised you at work? What has most surprised you in life and then on the soundtrack of your life? One track one song that's got to be on there. The first thing is first. What has most surprised you at work? And we discussed. We started with the fact that this whole thing is surprising so what has most surprised you at work along the way?

Dhruv Devnani:                   What has surprised me that being an engineer I have not really ever used my engineering skills and still people respect the education which surprises me. Because I never went into any hardcore engineering responsibilities from the day I graduated. So I'm still surprised when people look at me and go, "Oh, you're an engineer," and I'm like yeah but not a practicing one.

Seth Adler:                              And it is I would imagine the process mindset that is installed in you if you will as-

Dhruv Devnani:                   I would agree. I would agree. It's the way of thinking rather than what I learned in engineering school.

Seth Adler:                              That's it.

Dhruv Devnani:                   That surprises me still. It's like when people look at me you're an engineer. I'm like yeah but.

Seth Adler:                              Kind of.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Kind of.

Seth Adler:                              What's most surprised you in life?

Dhruv Devnani:                   How people are the same.

Seth Adler:                              So you think everyone is the same? Going back to the hometown Mumbai, Toronto all the same deal?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I've worked in about six different countries now in my life. As I say in terms of the motivation of people the approaches may be different.

Seth Adler:                              Now this is my question because everyone says when we're dealing with outsourcing here and there and there or when we're just dealing with basic business here in Europe and there in South East Asia that we need to take the local geography into account. So what do they mean and what do you mean?

Dhruv Devnani:                   So local culture may be different but basic motivations that drive people are the same. So like when you are a young kid, you kind of think you will explore the world and you will find something very different. You'll find what I call different clothing but the same people who are in it. So the clothing may be different but exactly what you get inside is the same and that has been kind of my experience working in six different countries so.

Seth Adler:                              This is how I eat dinner. This is what I eat for dinner but at the bottom, in the essence of me though is to one of my key drivers is to make sure I have enough money to buy dinner. Is that fair?

Dhruv Devnani:                   Yeah, that is correct.

Seth Adler:                              Meanwhile, I had dinner here in Toronto at a place they make the noodles and so they slap around so it's really loud and they really stretch them out very far. It was fascinating to watch and delicious to eat.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Let me know if you need any recommendations. One of the things that I appreciate about this city is the variety of cuisine.

Seth Adler:                              All right, so your favorite restaurant for those listening in Toronto what would it be?

Dhruv Devnani:                   My favorite restaurant?

Seth Adler:                              Yeah.

Dhruv Devnani:                   It depends on the cuisine but I would say right now, my favorite is Zakkushi. It's a Japanese Izakaya.

Seth Adler:                              All right perfect. So when I get here I got to come to that. What about the best Indian restaurant we got to ask you right?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I amazingly don't like eating Indian food outside.

Seth Adler:                              Because you make it?

Dhruv Devnani:                   No, no. Because whenever my mom comes that's the ultimate Indian cooking for me.

Seth Adler:                              Of course, we can't beat mom's cooking. No matter where you're from.

Dhruv Devnani:                   That's true.

Seth Adler:                              So on the soundtrack of your life. One track one song that's got to be on there.

Dhruv Devnani:                   I can't describe a song.

Seth Adler:                              No, nothing?

Dhruv Devnani:                   No.

Seth Adler:                              You got nothing in the phone?

Dhruv Devnani:                   No.

Seth Adler:                              What about books? What's your favorite book?

Dhruv Devnani:                   I would say Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's an old classic.

Seth Adler:                              I know it absolutely. Dhruv thank you so much.

Dhruv Devnani:                   Thank you, sir.

Seth Adler:                              And there you have Dhruv Devnani when you're a kid you think you'll explore the world and you'll find something very different. And you'll find what I call different clothing but the same people behind it. The clothing maybe be different but what you get inside is the same. I very much appreciate Dhruv's time. I very much appreciate your time. Stay tuned.